Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hogmanay moon clearing

The Hogmanay moon  - gloriously voluptuous, beckoning us into the New Year. I love this time. It is so full of hope and thoughts of new beginnings. I always enjoyed that feeling of anticipation that I still feel on Hogmanay.  In Scotland, the Ne'erday used to be a far more important holiday than Christmas, which was a normal working day until 1958. Some of the customs I remember and still keep are mostly based on clearing out and making ready for the new.  Giving the house a good clean, or redding up is important, as is making sure you have no dirty laundry to carry into the New Year.  So today was spent doing just that - changing beds, washing all those woollens that hide in the bottom of laundry basket, cleaning floors and vacuuming under beds.  I still have my Christmas tree up though - that stays until 12th night.

Other traditions include putting a coin on the doorstep and if it is still there in the morning then prosperity will follow for the next year.Last year's calendars must be taken down before the bells and I remember my Dad would always rake the fire and take out the ashes shortly before midnight.

Just before the bells, the back and front doors should be opened - to 'see the auld yin oot and let the bairn come in'.  By then you should be ready for a wee dram and a bit of shortbread.
It is a quiet night for us though.  My older children are out at a party, and James is asleep - worn out.  John and I are enjoying not having to go anywhere on this bitterly cold night and are happy to sit by the roaring fire. Hoping all your first foots are tall dark and handsome and that many blessings come to you in the coming year. Do have a wee listen to this beautiful rendition of The Bard's classic - his original tune.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Let it snow

 I am so thankful that we have no places to go right now, and can just be home enjoying the snow and finishing off our preparations for Christmas Day.  Mostly playing out in the garden and clearing up the paths this morning and lots of baking this afternoon.  Tomorrow  will hopefully be spent getting ready for the feast - doing as much in advance as possible, so we can all relax and enjoy the meal.  This is likely to be the last one where my Mother will be home -  Alzheimer's Disease is stealing more of her away all the time, and it looks likely that a care home could be a reality during the coming year. That's in the future though - right now we are all looking forward to spending the day together and ten of us will sit down to a traditional Christmas dinner.

There may even be some of this stollen cake left to have later on.
Sending warmest wishes to you all for a wonderful happy Christmas.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice images

We made sunny orange cupcakes.

We found the delicate wing from a butterfly lying on the snowy covered garden path . A poignant reminder of the summer past.

We built a SnowWoman, and how fine she looks!

Darkness falls early on the snowy field across the road

 Perfect for a candlelit evening by the fire.

Blessings to all on this Midwinter's night.

Cranberry Mincemeat

At my parents house on Saturday, I happened to catch this programme (Grow your own drugs for Christmas).  Well, I just loved it and can't imagine how I have ever managed to miss it.  Hmmm - maybe not having a TV could account for it, but nevertheless I was very taken with everything about this show. So, first thing on Sunday morning I was online searching for the recipes, and we decided to make the cranberry mincemeat. I have copied the recipe below,  but they are all available on the website.

1 kg cranberries, fresh or frozen
1 Bramley apple, chopped - I used 2 large apples from the fruit bowl
1 tsp mixed spice
100g unsalted butter
100ml maple syrup
300g soft brown sugar
3 tbsp dark rum or Cointreau - Cointreau every time for me.
100g candied orange peel
Flour, for dusting
2 rolls ready-made shortcrust pastry - I made my own, as I didn't have any frozen stuff
Icing sugar, to dredge
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
2. Distribute the cranberries and chopped apple between two roasting tins. Sprinkle over the mixed spice and fleck with the butter. Drizzle the maple syrup over. Roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the fruit is slightly shrunken with a golden tan.
3. Remove the roasted cranberries from the oven and place in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, rum or Cointreau and candied orange peel.
4. Sprinkle flour onto a work surface and roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm. Using a 7cm cookie-cutter, cut out discs of pastry and place into a greased mince pie tin. Prick the base of each pie with a fork and bake in the oven for 15 minutes.
5. Remove from the oven, and spoon the cranberry filling into each pastry cup. Return to the oven to cook for another 5 minutes. - We added little pastry hearts and stars and so cooked them a bit longer - 10 mins maybe. 
6. Leave the pies to cool, then dredge with icing sugar.
(by James Wong - Grow your own Drugs for Christmas BBC)

I have loads of mincemeat left, so it is sitting in a large jar in the 'fridge until my big baking day, currently pencilled in for Wednesday.

I have to say that these were the most delicious mincemeat pies I have ever tasted - and I have tasted a lot in my time.  These were light, sweet, tart, fruity......  can you tell I liked them?  Everyone else did too and they disappeared almost instantly. 

Good job James made a batch too!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advocaat and memories

I inherited my Grandmother's recipe books - they are falling apart as you see, but i love them and refer to them often.  There are 2 of these notebooks full of recipes written out in her neat hand, using her Parker fountain pen - credit is always given to whoever provided the recipe: - Dundee cake,  Mrs Fleming; Lantern Tray Bake, Betty Clark; Gingerbread, Mrs Fernie, Christmas Cake, Radio Times   Each page contains memories of visits to her house.  She was the most fantastic baker and the table just groaned with delights - big cakes, small cakes, fruit cakes, tray bakes,tarts, biscuits (cookies), shortbread.  She baked every week, to fill up her tins, so there was never any chance of being caught out with nothing to offer a visitor.
Anyway, browsing through a few weeks ago, I came upon this recipe for Advocate (sic).  Now as a child at New Year, I was always allowed a small glass of advocaat mixed with a lot of lemonade.  I so remember that fluffly light sweet eggy taste, so I was keen to give this a go - especially as our hens - The Pizza Girls are such prolific layers. You make it over 3 days, but then have to leave it for 3 - 4 weeks before drinking it - worth it though.
3 whole eggs - including shells
juice of 3 large lemons.
1 lb caster sugar
large tin evaporated milk (I used 3 170g tins Tesco own brand)
1 Gill brandy ( 1/4 of a pint)

Wash eggs and break into a bowl including the eggshells
Add the lemon juice and turn every day for 3 days.

(interesting science experiment here too)

On day 4 - whisk them up ( I zuzzed mine in a blender) and strain.  Add sugar, milk and brandy.  Beat well until the sugar has dissolved.

Pour into bottles and keep for 3 - 4 weeks before using.  I made just over 1 litre using this recipe - 1 bottle to keep and 2 smaller ones to give away.  Perfect!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fire shadows

It's almost midwinter here in Scotland. Long dark nights by the fire - dancing shadows in the flames.

 What pictures do you see?

Visit Tracy for midsummer in Australia and Shadow Shot Sunday

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Sharing Monday (xvii)

Today I want to share one of my favourite books - The Country Child by Alison Uttley. It is a fictional tale, but one very much based on the author's life growing up on a remote farm in Derbyshire, England at the turn of the 19th/20th Century. Susan Garland is seven years old in this story and we spend a year with her sharing her life on the farm and in the surrounding countryside.  From Susan's perspective we experience: moonlight, the dark woods, seasonal celebrations, animal and birdlife, storms, local characters - like the oatcake  man and the haymakers. A magical story, and even now,as I look for a passage to share with you, I lose myself in the enchanting descriptive prose, and already the chapter about Christmas Day has been re-read and wondered at.

Susan awoke in the dark on Christmas morning.  A weight lay on her feet, and she moved her toes up and down.  She sat up and rubbed her eyes.  It was Christmas Day.  She stretched out her hands and found the knobbly little stocking, which she brought into bed with her and clasped tightly in her arms as she fell asleep again.
She awoke later and lay holding her happiness, enjoying the moment.  The light was dim, but the heavy mass of the chest of drawers stood out against the pale walls, all blue like the snow shadows outside.  She drew her curtains and looked out at the starry sky.  She listened for the bells of the sleigh, but no sound came through the stillness except the screech owl's call.

Please visit Alex at Canadian Home Learning for more loved books on Book sharing Monday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Shadow Shot Sunday - Vegetarians look away now

Game birds hanging outside a butcher's shop. A sad little scene I photographed a couple of weeks ago in Oxford's covered market. Still, it is good to remind ourselves where our food actually comes from.
Lots and lots of shadows on display every weekend at Hey Harriet.  Do check them out.  

Friday, December 11, 2009

Skywatch - Blue skies and oil waste

Blues skies over Broxburn shale bing on Thursday morning.

A bing is another word for slag or spoil heap.  This particular bing is shale waste and is part of the original oil boom which took place over 150 years ago in West Lothian. It always makes me think of Uluru/Ayers Rock when I see it.  It is part of my own heritage too, since my ancestors worked down these mines. 
Visit skies from all over the world at Skywatch Friday.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Todays Flowers - Oops!

If you are following this from Today's Flowers, I must apologise - I entered the wrong blog name on the link up.  My entry for today can be found at my Gardening Blog. 
I am thinking about merging these blogs in the New year, as I find it difficult to separate my gardening life from the rest of my life (for the purposes of blogging), so that is a plan.
Apologies again. xx

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Shadow Shot Sunday - Ashmolean

On our recent trip to visit family we enjoyed a day out in Oxford.  Despite the fact that my sister-in law has lived in a nearby village for many years, we had never actually visited the town.  Amends have now been made, and I am very glad we did.  After wandering around looking at the skyscape and window shopping in the Covered Market and side streets we had a quick dash round the Ashmolean Museum.  What a fantasic place - recently refurbished - the way the collections are displayed is truly stunning.  Being the well trained subject that I am, I kept my camera lens cap on , but coming down stairs we came across this whole wall of busts by Sir Francis Chantrey , with nice little shadows attached..  I very politely asked a chap sporting a V neck jumper with the museum logo on if I could take a picture and he said  "Please do!"  - just like that! So I did - The Chantrey Wall.  I hope you like it as we had to run for our bus and there are no more. I'll be back!
Do visit Tracy and friends for Shadow Shot Sunday - you never know where you will end up.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Skywatch - Dreaming spires

Sorry - I couldn't resist the cliched title, but we spent a few days with my sister-in law and her husband while we all attended our nephew's wedding last weekend.  On a day out sightseeing in Oxford, we climbed the almost 1000 year old Saxon Tower and this was the view.  I love those clouds - they look as if they have been drawn in the sky. 

I like the way the University spires seem to be pushing their way out of the ground in this picture.
Check out Skywatch for more clouds, sun and beautiful skies from all over Earth.